The following homily was delivered by Rev. Roseller L. Atilano, Jr. SJ last 8 December 2016 during the High School unit’s mass for the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception.
Good morning everyone. I am Rev Ro Atilano, SJ. My hometown is Zamboanga City. I am a baby deacon. I was just ordained a month ago. And together with Rev. Harvey Mateo, an alumnus of your school, Rev Philip Yohan, and Rev Martin Licup, I will be ordained a priest on June 3, on my birthday. Please pray for us and pray for more young men like you to join us.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception of Our Blessed Virgin Mary. Do you know that she is the Principal Patroness of the Philippines and that Ateneo of de Manila? In fact the pontifical name, the name registered at the Vatican, of Ateneo de Manila University is University of the Immaculate Conception. Do you know that the blue color of Xavier School symbolizes the color of Our Lady as you show your devotion to Mary and your commitment to become like her, a loving and faithful servant of the Lord. The Marian blue, or ultramarine, is the purest, the rarest, and most expensive of pigments, and exceeds gold in value. The color must be extracted in tiny amounts from crushed lapis lazuli, a gem. Medieval artists therefore reserved blue for the robes of the Virgin and the Child Jesus. Now you know.
Now let me see what you know about Immaculate Conception. Let me do a survey. On the great feast of the Immaculate Conception, who was conceived immaculately? If your answer is Jesus, raise your hands now. If your answer is Mary, raise your hands now. If December 25 is the birth of Jesus, then nine months earlier, Jesus was conceived in the womb of his Mother Mary. March 25 therefore is the feast of the Annunciation of the Angel to Mary. If Mary was born on September 8, then nine months earlier, she was conceived in the womb of her Mother St. Anne. Therefore it was Mary who was conceived in the womb of St. Anne on this feast of the Immaculate Conception. But why do we celebrate the Feast of Mary’s conception in the womb of her mother? If Jesus is the Word made Flesh, God Incarnate, God-made-Man, who is sinless, therefore the vessel that would carry Him in this world should also be sinless. Then it follows that Mary upon her conception should be free and exempted from original sin. The church calls this dogma – the Immaculate Conception.
There is something about Mary. Not the 1998 American romantic comedy film which stars Cameron Diaz as the title character with Ben Stiller, Chris Elliott, and Matt Dillon all playing men who are in love with her and vying for her affections.
There is something about Mary. She was addressed as “Full of Grace” by an angel. She was described as “blessed among all women” by her cousin. One of the chapters of the Holy Book of Islam, Qur’an, is devoted to Mary and is entitled Miriam. Miriam is considered one of the greatest and most righteous women in Islam. In fact, she is the only woman mentioned by name in Qur’an. While many of us revere her, we also know that others ignore her. However, in 2005 Time Magazine devoted a particular issue to Mary and at its front cover you can read, “Catholics have long revered her, but now Protestants are finding their own reasons to celebrate the mother of Jesus.”
There is something about Mary. In my hometown there is an old Marian Shrine that has been visited by locals for centuries. The shrine is located on the eastern wall of the Spanish Fort which was built in 1635 as a military defense garrison against the constant threats of marauders and pirates waging war against the Spanish occupation. The image of the Nuestra Senora La Virgen del Pillar was enthroned over the main gate in 1734 in her honor. But what makes this particular devotion to La Virgen del Pilar de Zamboanga unique and extraordinary is that it is visited by both Christians and Muslims. Perhaps, it is the only military fort in the world that has been transformed into a Marian shrine for prayer, peace and dialogue.
There is something about Mary. More and more I realized that I really owe my faith and vocation to my own mother. My first memory of any religious experience in my life is not the mass but the Fort Pilar as we call it now. I remember my mother bringing me to this shrine at least twice a year: on my birthday and during the fiesta. We have a tradition in Zamboanga that on your birthday you should visit the shrine and light a candle as thanksgiving. I could still remember the balloons, the cotton candy, the ice cream, and the flock of doves. These were part of my routine with my mother before offering a candle to our Lady. As a child, I could not yet understand the meaning of these visits to the shrine. But as I grew older, especially when I was working in DSWD which was a stone-throw away from the shrine, on my own every afternoon, I would visit the shrine, light a candle, and attend mass as I watch the sun set behind the massive walls of the Fort. It was during those visits when I started seriously discerning about the possibility of becoming a Jesuit priest.
Now looking back, I realized that it was my own mother who brought me closer to our Lady, who brought me closer to Jesus. In a sense, it was my own mother who introduced me to Jesus and to my priestly vocation. It all started during those days of my childhood when she would walk me along the palm-guarded Valderosa Street leading to Fort Pilar.
There is something about Mary. I believe this also the experience of Jesus. I can imagine Mary bringing the child Jesus to the temple – buying not balloons but wooden donkey toys, and not candles, but turtle doves for the burnt offering. I can imagine Jesus’ amazement at the size of the temple and the huge crowd during the yearly Festivals. And as Jesus grew up and started his ministry, he would remember those days when his own mother brought him to the temple and how thankful he was to her. It was his Mary who brought Jesus closer to God, His Father.
There is something about Mary. No, I think it should be: There is Someone about Mary. Jesus. It’s Jesus.
So why are we drawn to Mary? We know that the moon does not have its own light but only reflects the light that comes from the sun. Just like my own mother bringing me to the shrine in my childhood which has eventually led me to my faith, to my vocation, to Jesus, and just like Mary bringing Jesus to the temple in his childhood has eventually led him to his ministry and fulfill God’s plan of salvation, Mary only desires for us to be ever closer to Jesus.
As we approach the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, and just like St. Ignatius who begged Mary in prayer, “place me with your Son,” we pray today that our devotion to Mary may bring us ever closer to Jesus.
To end, let me recite the first lines of this beautiful poem to Mary:
Lovely Lady dressed in blue ——-
Teach me how to pray!
God was just your little boy,
Tell me what to say!
Photos by the XS Media Team